A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld the military's longstanding ban on homosexual activity and its more recent "don't ask, don't tell" policy, saying that the rules do not violate homosexuals' constitutional rights because of the special circumstances of the military.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said that individual rights traditionally have been curtailed in the armed forces and that military officials' justifications for the policies were rational because the policies promote unit cohesion, enhance privacy and reduce sexual tension.The decision overturned two rulings by a U.S. District judge in Manhattan, who had struck down the ban on homosexual activity and the "don't ask, don't tell" provision. Judge Eugene Nickerson said the policies violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and free speech, and that they discriminated against homosexuals for no other reason than to cater to the prejudices of heterosexuals.

"The decision basically gives to the military and Congress, when it is acting on military matters, carte blanche to discriminate," said Beatrice Dohrn, legal director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.